Archive for December 20th, 2009

Science and Soul: Nopenhagen

Science News in Brief

The discovery of a 4.4 million year old fossil skeleton that may have belonged to an early human ancestor was discovered in October.  Now, this discovery is hailed by the journal Science, as the greatest scientific breakthrough of the year.


The Copenhagen Climate Summit has come to a close and here are some of the stipulations the loose agreement includes:

  1. recognition to limit temperature rises to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
  2. promises to deliver 30 billion dollars of aid for developing nations over the next three years, and 100 billion by 2020.
  3. includes a method for verifying industrialised nations’ reduction of emissions.

Turd Polishing: Making something crappy look better than it actually is.  That is how I define the above agreement.  It doesn’t look as if it will help much at all.  We are willing to admit there is a problem (the first step), but not willing to change.

Members of the European Space Agency have given final approval to plans to explore Mars.  The mission is to depart in 2018.

Mars Attacks: There have been 15 rovers sent to Mars.  There have been 6 manned missions to the moon.  One seems to interest scientists more than the other.

Cool Creature

The Northern blue-tongued skink, or Tiliqua scincoides intermedia, grows to 24 inches long, making it the largest of the blue tongued lizards.  These azure tongued beasties live in forests, woodlands, and grasslands of Northern Australia.  It is diurnal, and hunts for insects, snails, fruits, berries and wildflowers during the day.  At night, they are much less active and can be found resting in the hollows of logs.

Don't stick your tongue out at me.

Feature Story

Sorry I have once again neglected to post for a week, but exams take precedence.

Anyway, I have decided to post about the Copenhagen Climate Summit: formerly known as Hopenhagen, now seen as Nopenhagen.

I will now admit that I don’t really think that I should blog about this.  So much has already been said about Copenhagen that I will probably just wind up repeating what you have heard.  So, I just want to share with you what I consider an excellent assessment of the Summit.

By Amy Goodman

Denmark is the home of renowned children’s author Hans Christian Andersen. Copenhagen is dotted with historical spots where Andersen lived and wrote. “The Little Mermaid” was one of his most famous tales, published in 1837, along with “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

As the United Nations’ climate summit, called “COP 15,” enters its final week, with more than 100 world leaders arriving amid growing protests, the notion that a binding agreement will come from this conference looks more and more like a fairy tale.

The reality is harsher. Negotiations have repeatedly broken down, with divisions between the global North, or industrialized countries, and the global South. Leading the North is the United States, the world’s greatest polluter, historically, and a leader in per capita carbon emissions. Among the Southern nations are several groupings, including the least-developed countries, or LDCs; African nations; and nations from AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States. These are places where millions live on the edge, directly impacted by climate change, dealing with the effects, from cyclones and droughts to erosion and floods. Tuvalu, near Fiji, and other island nations, for example, are concerned that rising sea levels will wipe their countries off the map.

New conceptions of the crisis are emerging at COP 15. People are speaking of climate justice, climate debt and climate refugees. Indian scientist and activist Vandana Shiva was among those who addressed a climate justice rally of 100,000 Saturday in Copenhagen. Afterward, I asked her to respond to U.S. climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing, who said the Obama administration is willing to pay its fair share, but added that donors “don’t have unlimited largesse to disburse.” Shiva responded, “I think it’s time for the U.S. to stop seeing itself as a donor and recognize itself as a polluter, a polluter who must pay. … This is not about charity. This is about justice.”

Shiva went on: “A climate refugee is someone who has been uprooted from their home, from their livelihoods, because of climate instability. It could be people who’ve had to leave their agriculture because of extended drought. It could be communities in the Himalayas who are having to leave their villages, either because flash floods are washing out their villages or because streams are disappearing.”

Both inside and outside the summit there is a diverse cross section of nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, from indigenous-peoples delegations to environmental and youth groups. Their separate but connected efforts have been coalescing into a new movement, a movement for climate justice. Broad consensus exists among the NGOs and the global South that any agreement coming out of the U.N. process must be fair, ambitious and binding, or as they put it, “FAB.”

The Bella Center itself, where the summit is being held, is said by the U.N. to be at capacity. Thousands of people line up daily in the cold, vainly hoping to get in to the Bella of the Beast. Thousands more, from the NGOs, are having their access stripped, ostensibly to make room for visiting heads of state, their entourages and security.

Outside, Copenhagen is seeing an unprecedented police crackdown, with the largest and most expensive security operation in Denmark’s history. More than 1,200 people were detained over the weekend, and as this column goes to press, targeted arrests of protest organizers and police raids of public protest convergence spaces are being reported. Heavy-handed police tactics give another meaning to “COP 15.”

After South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke at a candlelight vigil for children, I asked whether he thought President Barack Obama was following through on climate change. He responded: “We hope he will, yes. He has given the world a great deal of hope. I have said he’s now a Nobel laureate—become what you are.”

Last week, as a polar bear ice statue melted downtown, revealing the dinosaur skeleton hidden within, a small ice replica of Copenhagen’s famous Little Mermaid statue sat outside the Bella Center, melting. She is now gone. Obama is making his second attempt to win a prize in Copenhagen, after the Chicago Olympics embarrassment. Unless he uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new determination that carbon dioxide is a public health hazard and nails down a fair, ambitious and binding agreement, we may see Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” played out on the global stage.

The Cosmic Perspective

When will we ever learn?  I will be the first to admit that we cannot “prove” that global warming is occurring.  But, there are two problems with doing nothing.  First, we have very strong evidence to support that assessment.  The so-called “Climategate,” has been largely debunked as overblown sensationalism and nitpicking on the part of climate change deniers.  At this point, countless studies have been done and the most of the ones not backed by large corporations indicate that the climate is most definitely warming:

Second, we don’t have time to wait and see.  We need to act now if we wish to avert the worst that could occur.  I like to use the precautionary principle.  The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action.  If I see a mushroom in the forest, I will not eat it if I am not sure that it is safe.  Likewise, we should not continue on our track of aggressively using up fossil fuels to power our excess.

The entire Copenhagen summit was a debate between developed and undeveloped nations.  Developed nations decry developing nations for using dirty energy to advance their states, while developing nations yell back that developed nations use much more fossil fuels per capita and are already developed, so who are they to say others should not.  After much back and forth nothing much has been done. The developed accord is toothless, and not even binding at that!  It looks unlikely to contain temperature rises to within the 2 degree Celsius  climate change threshold that UN scientists say is needed to avert serious climate change.  Nor will it bring back the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere to 350 parts per billion, the level that scientists believe is the maximum to avert the aforementioned 2 degree change.  Unfortunately, since we are insulated by the bubble of wealth, we do not yet feel the effects of this oncoming storm.  But eventually, every bubble pops.  Will we be ready to deal with it?  Perhaps the one silver lining that I can draw from this meeting is that globally, we have recognized that there is a problem.  Now, we must act and make actual attempts to fix it.

For all of you not up to date, I suggest you check out Democracy Now! for unbiased news and real journalism:



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